So that we must not be hard on that theological conclave which made the mistake of burning a Blessed One alive. They were inspired by the highest motives, political and divine, and they made the fullest use of their knowledge of spiritual things. Being under divine direction, they could not allow any weak sentiment of pity or human consideration to influence their judgment. Their only error was in their failure to discern the authenticity of the girl’s miracles, and we must call that a venial error, since it has taken the Church nearly five centuries to give a final decision on the point. The authenticity of miracles! Of all questions that is the most difficult for a contemporary to decide. In the case of Joan’s judges, indeed, the solution of this mystery must have been almost impossible, unless they were gifted with prophecy; for most of her miracles were performed only after her death, or at least only then became known. And as to the bare facts they knew of her life—the realities that everyone might have seen or heard, and many thousands had shared in—there was nothing miraculous about them, nothing to detain the attention of theologians. They were natural events.
For a hundred years the country had been rent and devastated by foreign war. The enemy still clutched its very centre. The south-west quarter of the kingdom was his beyond question. By treaty his young king was heir to the whole. The land was depopulated by plague and impoverished by vain revolution. Continuous civil strife tore the people asunder, and the most powerful of the factions fought for the invader’s claim. Armies ate up the years like locusts, and there was no refuge for the poor, no preservation of wealth for men or honour for women. Even religion was distracted by schism, divided against herself into two, perhaps into three, conflicting churches. In the midst of the misery and tumult this girl appears, possessed by one thought only—the pity for her country. Modest beyond all common decency; most sensitive to pain, for it always made her cry; conscious, as she said, that in battle she ran as much risk of being killed as anyone else, she rode among men as one of themselves, bareheaded, swinging her axe, charging with her standard which all must follow, heartening her countrymen for the cause of France, striking the invading enemy with the terrors of a spirit. Just a clear-witted, womanly girl, except that her cause had driven fear from her heart, and occupied all her soul, to the exclusion of lesser things. “Pity she isn’t an Englishwoman!”